The Magazine

John Kerry Is Different from You and Me

From the August 2, 2004 issue: Yes, he has more money. Lots more.

Aug 2, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 44 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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POOR PRESIDENT BUSH. It's not often a man with a net worth in the low eight figures is made to feel destitute. But compared with the other three men atop the national tickets, Bush seems almost indigent. This year, both ends of both tickets are rolling in lucre. Taken together, their net worth comes out at more than $1.3 billion, equivalent to the gross national product of many small nations. If Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Democrats' Johns--Kerry and Edwards--got together, they could fund their own country. Meanwhile, Bush, with a mere $18 million or so, is very much the low end of this quartet, worth three times less than the two men running for the privilege and post of being vice president, who score in the neighborhood of $50 million apiece. But they all seem like pikers next to John Kerry, who, thanks to his wife, has access to something over $1 billion, making him by far the richest man ever to run on a national ticket, as well as the most self-indulgent in his lifestyle, and the most quasi-royal in his sense of himself.

Wealth in American politics is of course nothing new. The Revolution was largely led by rich men from Virginia. The Declaration was written by a rich planter's son, Thomas Jefferson; the Constitution by Gouverneur Morris, son of a rich New York farmer. George Washington was a well-to-do planter whose wealth came from his wife, who was not rich herself but had married a wealthy first husband (the John Heinz of his era). We had the Kennedy brothers, the Roosevelt cousins, the various Bushes, brothers and sons, all of them comfortable. We have the many members of the millionaires' club in the Senate; those who got there on their names and their money (Jay Rockefeller and Edward M. Kennedy); and others (Jon Corzine) who made their own fortunes, and then bought their seats. But we have never seen anything quite like John Kerry, both in the extent of his wealth and his attitude toward it. He is not merely rich, he is stunningly wealthy. He became rich in a way unconnected to merit. Yet he seems to believe it's his due.

In most cases, the well-to-do in American politics have been like the Kennedys, Bushes, and Roosevelts, people who lived in great comfort but not ostentation, with, say, a town house, a (family) place in the country, small pleasure boats, and of course live-in help. When he ran for president, Franklin D. Roosevelt had a flat in New York and the family seat in Hyde Park and he lived in the governor's mansion in Albany. Theodore Roosevelt had a house in Washington (where he served as McKinley's vice president), and his ungainly Sagamore Hill mansion on Long Island. When John Kennedy ran, he had a nice but unostentatious town house in Georgetown, and a nice but unremarkable house on Cape Cod. (To be fair, he also had access to his father's Palm Beach oceanside mansion, and the family's several apartments in New York.) When George W. Bush ran for president, he lived in the governor's mansion in Austin, and his one home was his ranch.

Kerry by contrast is master and commander of no fewer than five lavish mansions, all large, and all on the priciest real estate, where property values boggle the mind: There is the $3.7 million mansion in Fox Chapel, Pa., on a 90-acre estate with a pool and a carriage house; the $6.9 million town house on Beacon Hill back in Boston; the $9.1 million waterfront house on Nantucket Island; and a $5 million ski chalet in Ketchum, Idaho, built from a 15th-century barn discovered in England that was then taken apart, shipped to America, and reassembled stone by stone. When they want to live simply, the Heinz Kerrys make do with a 23-room town house in Georgetown, almost three times the size of the one that the Kennedys lived in, and worth a mere $4.7 million. To go back and forth between all of these places, the Kerrys have the deluxe model of the Gulfstream V private jet, which retails for about $35 million.